Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is under investigation on suspicion of having illegally imported extremely valuable diamond jewelry given away by Saudi Arabia and has five days to return those in his possession.
Here is a look at what is known about this case that could become both a legal and political problem for the far-right ex-president (2019-2022), who is expected to return to Brazil soon from the United States, where he has resided since Lula gave Silva assumed the presidency on January 1.
Bolsonaro’s former Minister of Mines and Energy Bento Albuquerque, who made an official visit to Saudi Arabia in October 2021, assured that an “envoy” from the Saudi government delivered two packages to his delegation at the end of their trip, as revealed to the newspaper O State of S.Paulo.
Back in Brazil, customs officers at the Guarulhos airport in São Paulo detected that an Albuquerque assistant was carrying one of the boxes in his backpack, without declaring it.
In the first was a necklace, a ring, a watch and a pair of earrings, valued at $3.2 million. AFP photo
Officials discovered the package was filled with diamond jewelry and seized it for failure to pay required import duties.
As can be seen in video surveillance images broadcast by local TV, the former minister assured that the jewels were destined for the first lady Michelle Bolsonaro.
The officials discovered that the package was filled with diamond jewelry. AFP photo
Speaking to police investigators Tuesday, Albuquerque tried to be less categorical, saying that since it was about jewelry, he simply assumed it was for the former first lady, according to local media.
Bolsonaro’s administration reportedly tried at least eight times to convince customs inspectors to release the jewels, with one last attempt on the penultimate day of his mandate.
The second package evaded customs control and was delivered to Bolsonaro, who would have kept it, according to Albuquerque.
Bolsonaro reacted in the first days of the scandal: “They are accusing me of a gift that I did not ask for, nor did I receive. There is no illegality on my part,” he told CNN Brazil.
Both packages contained jewelry from the luxurious Swiss brand Chopard.
In the first was a necklace, a ring, a watch and a pair of earrings, valued at $3.2 million.
The second contained a watch, a ring, a pen, a pair of cufflinks and a rosary, a set estimated at $75,000 according to Brazilian media.
Under Brazilian law, travelers entering the country with assets over a thousand dollars must declare them.
Under Brazilian law, travelers entering the country with assets over a thousand dollars must declare them. AFP photo
In this case, the owner should have paid import taxes on the jewelry, equal to half of the value in excess of one thousand dollars.
The former presidential couple could have imported the jewelry tax-free if they had been declared as gifts to the state, but in that case the items would have remained in the collection of the Planalto presidential palace.
“Government officials are absolutely prohibited from accepting gifts of high value for themselves, even for the president of the Republic,” said Isac Falcao, president of Sindifisco, the union that represents employees of the tax authority.
“Every public official knows that,” he told AFP.
The Federal Police (PF) and the tax entity opened separate investigations into the case.
The head of the Senate’s transparency committee also announced an investigation to determine whether the jewels have any link to the sale that same year of an oil refinery in northeastern Brazil to the UAE’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala for $1.65 billion. of dollars.
The first set of jewels remains at the Guarulhos international airport.
The federal tax authority says that the deadline to regularize their legal situation expired in July 2022, and that now the objects could be auctioned, donated, added to the national heritage or destroyed.
Brazilian media reported on Monday that Bolsonaro had agreed to hand over the second set of jewelry to authorities.
The Court of Accounts of the Union (TCU), which supervises the public coffers, ordered on Wednesday that Bolsonaro return the second set of jewels to the general secretariat of the presidency in five days so that they can be integrated into the State heritage.
It also determined that customs deliver the first package to the same body, as well as ordered an audit of all gifts during Bolsonaro’s term.
Last week he had asked that Bolsonaro and Albuquerque be questioned by the police.
A date for Bolsonaro to testify has not yet been announced.
In a plenary session, the TCU could order the former president this Wednesday to return the jewels, while the investigation progresses.
The episode has drawn little attention in Saudi Arabia, where there has been no official reaction from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.